Developers of online business applications are racing to meet an industry-imposed deadline that could create security problems for their software.
After September 30, applications which make use of Microsoft's Virtual Machine for Java (JVM) -- an essential component in running any Java-based application -- need to switch to Sun's rival JVM or risk potential security breaches. After that date, Microsoft will not be offering any further patches for its JVM.
Because Java applications can run on any platform which has a suitable JVM and offer a well-defined security system, they have been a popular choice for online financial applications. In practice, however, the dominance of Windows has meant that most consumers have used Microsoft's own JVM (supplied ready-installed with Windows) rather than Sun's.
Prominent local organisations which currently use Java include the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and St George Bank. National Australia Bank also used Java in an earlier version of its online banking software, but, like most of the other major banks, has since switched to a pure browser interface.
St George has begun warning customers of its online banking service that they need to download the Sun JVM. "Whilst you will still be able to use Microsoft VM to run the St George Internet Banking Applet, we strongly recommend that customers move to Sun's Java Software before this date," a notice to customers signing into the service reads. The issue is also ranked at the top of the bank's frequently asked questions document for online banking.
While no major security issues have affected such applications to date, Microsoft is warning customers that problems may occur after the September 30 deadline. A statement on its Web site says in part: "The MSJVM will become unsupported by Microsoft after this date, and any problems found, including potential security issues, may no longer be corrected."
Although organisations like St George are now actively encouraging users to switch, Microsoft itself is expending most of its energy working with developers. "Currently no action is required by consumers," Microsoft's transition site says.
The dropping of the Microsoft JVM is a result of a long-running lawsuit between Microsoft and Sun which dates back into the mid-1990s, when Java was first introduced by Sun. Following a January 2001 settlement of that lawsuit, Microsoft was originally due to stop supporting the JVM last year. However, it agreed on an extension to the deadline with Sun after customers expressed concerns over the transition timetable.
Fortunately, Australia's biggest deployment of Java applications for the mass market won't be affected by the switchover. The Australian Taxation Office uses a Java client for its Electronic Commerce Interface (ECI) application, used by millions of businesses to submit business activity statements and other documents. However, the ATO has always mandated the use of Sun's own JVM.